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New row over who controls Libyan offensive

Posted by seumasach on March 26, 2011

Herald

26th March, 2011

It came as British forces revealed they had bombed four tanks threatening civilians in the north African state on Thursday.

The success of that and other missions led the Ministry of Defence to claim that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s power over the country was being diminished on a daily basis.

However, Prime Minister David Cameron again refused to put a time limit on how long British forces might be involved.

An additional diplomatic battle has raged for days over who should take over control of the intervention from the Americans.

Nato has agreed to take over part of the mission, including maintaining the no-fly zone over the country.

Senior officials are confident the alliance will assume command of all elements of the campaign – including air assaults – next week.

A decision is due by Monday, before foreign ministers meet in London on Tuesday to discuss the conflict.

But the French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it would be “playing into the hands of Colonel Gaddafi to say Nato is taking over,” insisting that Arab countries had to be involved.

 

The decision that Nato would take over the no-fly zone was held up by French concerns about the unpopularity of the US-led alliance in the Arab world and Turkey’s desire to limit operations against Libyan infrastructure and avoid civilian casualties.

Wiliam Hague, the Foreign Secretary, had earlier said he was confident that after Thursday night’s agreement for Nato to take command of the international no-fly zone – following days of diplomatic wrangling – the rest of the military operation would follow.

“I have every expectation that the whole operation, including the protection of civilians on the ground in Libya by our airstrikes and missile strikes, will also be part of a Nato command,” he said.

The row came as the MoD released dramatic pictures of RAF Tornado GR4 fighters blowing up Libyan tanks.

Coalition forces destroyed another three Libyan vehicles, the defence ministry said, though it would not reveal which country’s planes were involved.

British forces have now carried out around 70 sorties against Colonel Gaddafi’s troops. Mr Hague stressed the coalition was doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, although he acknowledged it was more difficult when Gaddafi’s forces were attacking built-up areas like the city of Misrata.

However, officials said the threat posed by Gaddafi’s air defences had been reduced to a “negligible level” and coalition air patrols could now concentrate on hitting his tanks and artillery. Every day Gaddafi was losing tanks and guns that he could not replace, they added.

Mr Cameron called on Libyan Government soldiers to abandon their tanks and reiterated a warning they could face international war crimes charges.

“The people who are around him and are obeying his orders should realise that time is up,” he said.

“Do not obey his orders, walk away from your tanks, leave the command and control that you are doing, give up on this regime because it should be over for him and his henchmen.

The Prime Minister also said Europe had “come together” to support military action.

He also confirmed that some Arab nations have now joined the action in Libya, with the United Arab Emirates providing six F-16 and six Mirage aircraft to participate in enforcement of the no-fly zone over the country.

An EU summit in Brussels had agreed that “military action should continue until people are safe and secure and until the UN Security Council resolution [on Libya] is properly implemented”.

 

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